Archive for the ‘Backsliding’ Category

What concern have we in the sins of the day wherein we live? – John Owen

March 27, 2011 Comments off

Discourse III

Question. What concern have we in the sins of the day wherein we live?

Answer. All sins may be referred to two heads:— First, Irreligion. Secondly, Immorality.

First. Irreligion; and that may be reduced to two heads, — atheism and false worship: you may add, also, particularly, the contempt of all instituted worship. It takes up much of the sins against the first table; however, at present I shall only speak of the first of them:— As to atheism, then, it may be no age can parallel that wherein we live, considering all the ways whereby the atheism of man’s heart may discover itself. For, take it absolutely, and in the seat of it, it is found only in the heart of man; unless some one or other prodigious instance breaks out sometime, as we have had in our days: but otherwise, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” The heart is the seat of atheism. But we consider the ways whereby this atheism may and doth manifest itself:—

(1.) By horrid, cursed, blasphemous swearing; which is a contempt of the name of God. And when did it ever more abound in this nation?

2.) By reproaching of the Spirit of God. Perhaps this is the peculiar sin of the nation at this day; and that the like hath not been known or heard of in any nation under the sun.

(3.) By scoffing at all holy things; — at the Scriptures, — at every thing that carries a reverence and fear of God; so that a man who dares profess a fear of God in what he doth, makes himself a scorn.

(4.) Contempt of all God’s providential warnings is another proof of atheism. Never had a nation more warnings from God’s providence, nor ever were they more despised. These things, brethren, are not done in a corner; they are perpetrated in the face of the sun. The steam of them darkens the whole heaven, and they abound more and more every day.

Secondly. Shall we go to the other head, — namely, Immorality, — and see how it is there? It would be an endless thing, to go over the sins that reign among us: oppression, blood, uncleanness, sensuality, drunkenness, — all to the height, raging and reigning in the nation. I mention these things as a matter to be bewailed before the Lord by us this day; and we ought to be affected with the consideration of them.

Unto this great prevalency and predominancy of sin in the whole nation, there is added a strange and unspeakable security. The truth is, men were a little awakened one while in the nation. When the judgments of God — the pestilence, the fire, the sword, and the year after, another warning from heaven — were upon us, then there was a little awakening, like a man out of a dead sleep, that lifts up his head, and rubs his eyes for a time. But I can say this, that it is now towards forty years since God enabled me to observe something in the world; and, to my knowledge, I never observed this nation in that state of security wherein it is at this day. For, even in former times, there were warnings continually that God had a controversy with the nation; and those that had any fear of God spake one to another about it; and we saw and found their warnings were not in vain.

But here is now a general security. Men complain of straits, want, poverty, and the like; but as to any thing wherein God hath to do with the world, either my observation doth greatly deceive me, or I never saw, I think, so general a security as at this day in this nation. And this security hath reached us all, — even the churches of God themselves.

These things are matter of fact. The whole question is, Whether we are greatly to be concerned in these things or not? “They are the sins of wicked men, and they are the sins of the persecutors of God’s people, and the like; and what have we to do with them?”

The psalmist of old said, that “rivers of waters ran down his eyes, because men did not keep the law of God.” And you know that God doth set a special mark upon those, not that are free from the abominations of the age, but upon those that mourn for the abominations that are in the midst of us. It will not be enough for us, that we are free from those abominations, unless we are found to mourn for them. Brethren, our own hearts know we are guilty in this matter, and that we had need seek the face of God this day to give us a deeper sense of these things than we have obtained.

The name of God is blasphemed, the Spirit of God reproached, a flood of iniquity spreads itself over the nation, the land of our nativity, over the inheritance of Christ, over a nation professing the reformed religion; — all things go backward, — every thing declines. Indeed, brethren, if you will not, I do acknowledge here before you, and to my own shame, I have great guilt upon me in this matter, that I have not been sensible of the abominations of the nation, so as to mourn for them and be humbled for them, as I ought to have been. And you will do well to search your hearts, and consider how it is with you; — whether indeed you have been affected with these things; or whether you have not thought all is well, while all hath been well with yourselves and families, and, it may be, with the church, that may have no trouble upon that account. The security that is upon the nation is dismal; and, I may say, I see no way or means whereby the nation should be freed from this security. The conduct of the ministry, which they are under generally, is not able to free them from this security; nor the dispensation of the word: [so] that it seems to be a security from God to lead on the nation to judgment; the means for the removal of it and the awakening of us being laid aside.

And if it comes this way, or that way, any way, though we see not the morning of it, you will find yourselves concerned in it. — “Who may abide the day of his coming?”

We may do well, brethren, to consider the state of the church of God in the world, among ourselves, and our own condition. I need not tell you how it is in the world; but this I can say, that to my apprehensions, the interest of Christ and the gospel was never so fast going down in the world since it came into it, as at this day. I will give you my reason of what I say: When the gospel was first planted and brought into the world, the devil was not able to bring the church into its apostasy, under six, or seven, or eight hundred years, and that by degrees. Since the time of the Reformation, the church was progressive for about seventy years; it stood at a stay about the same proportion of time; and ever since, it hath been going backward, straitened in all places: the power of it decays, and the peace of it is taken away, and destruction everywhere seems to lie at the door.

Many, indeed, are in great misery and distress: some I have heard of lately sold for slaves, for the testimony of their conscience. How is it with the church of Christ in this nation? Truly, some [are] in great poverty, in great affliction, in great distress; and I am afraid we and others have not hearts to relieve them, as we ought to do, in a due manner: however, let us help them with our prayers.

And that which is worst of all, there seems to me, I must acknowledge it, to be a very great decay in all churches of Christ in the nation, especially among those of us who have had most peace, most prosperity. That which we call zeal for God is almost quite lost among us. Some of us have almost forgot whether there be such a thing as the cause and interest of Christ in the world. We who have cried and prayed about it, and had it upon our hearts, have sat down in our narrow compass, and almost forgot there is such a thing as the interest of Christ in the world, so as to have an active zeal for the ordinances of God according to rule, as God requires of us. Our primitive love, — how is it decayed! Value of the ordinances of Christ, and the society of his people for edification, — how cold are we grown in these things! How little is the church society upon our hearts, which some of us remember when it was the very joy of our souls! Truly we have reason to lift up our cry to God, that he would return and visit the churches, and pour out a new, fresh, reviving spirit upon them, that we fall not under the power of these decays till we come to formality, and God withdraws himself from us, and leaves us; which he seems to be at the very point of doing.

Then, brethren, let us remember our own church; that God would in an especial manner revive the spirit of life, power, and holiness among us; that he would be pleased to help the officers of the church to discharge their duty, and not suffer them to fall under any decay of grace or gifts, unfitting of them to the discharge of their office to the edification of the church; that he would give them also to beware and take heed of formality as to the exercise of gifts in their administration; and that he would take care of us, since we are apt to fall under these things. Let us pray that we may be acted by the Spirit of God, and enlivened by the grace of God, in all things we do.

Have any of us any particular occasions in reference to temptations, trials, and troubles? — we may bear it upon our hearts to the Lord this day. This is much better than by multiplying a company of formal bills. The Lord help us to know the plague of our own hearts, and to be enabled to plead with the Lord, upon this opportunity, for grace and mercy to help us in every time of need!

Source: Several practical cases of conscience resolved


Parable of the lost son – JC Ryle

March 20, 2010 Comments off

JC Ryle

The parable before us is commonly known as the parable of “the prodigal son.” It may be truly called a mighty spiritual picture. Unlike some of our Lord’s parables, it does not convey to us one great lesson only, but many. Every part of it is peculiarly rich in instruction.

We see, firstly, in this parable, a man following the natural bent of his own heart. Our Lord shows us a “younger son” making haste to set up for himself, going far away from a kind father’s house, and “wasting his substance in riotous living.”

We have in these words a faithful portrait of the mind with which we are all born. This is our likeness. We are all naturally proud and self-willed. We have no pleasure in fellowship with God. We depart from Him, and go afar off. We spend our time, and strength, and faculties, and affections, on things that cannot profit. The covetous man does it in one fashion; the slave of lusts and passions in another; the lover of pleasure in another. In one point only are all agreed. Like sheep, we all naturally “go astray, and turn every one to his own way.” (Isaiah. 53:6.) In the younger son’s first conduct we see the natural heart.

He that knows nothing of these things has yet much to learn. He is spiritually blind. The eyes of his understanding need to be opened. The worst ignorance in the world is not to know ourselves. Happy is he who bas been delivered from the kingdom of darkness, and been made acquainted with himself! Of too many it may be said, “They know not, neither will they understand. They walk on in darkness.” (Psalm 82:5.)

We see, secondly, in this parable, man finding out that the ways of sin are hard, by bitter experience. Our Lord shows us the younger son spending all his property and reduced to poverty–obliged to take service and “feed swine”–so hungry that he is ready to eat swine’s food–and cared for by none.

These words describe a common case. Sin is a hard master, and the servants of sin always find it out, sooner or later, to their cost. Unconverted people are never really happy. Under a profession of high spirits and cheerfulness, they are often ill at ease within. Thousands of them are sick at heart, dissatisfied with themselves, weary of their own ways, and thoroughly uncomfortable. “There be many that say, who will show us any good.” “There is no peace, says my God, to the wicked.” (Psalm. 4:6. Isaiah 57:21.)

Let this truth sink down into our hearts. It is a truth, however loudly unconverted people may deny it. “The way of transgressors is hard.” (Prov. 13:15.) The secret wretchedness of natural man is exceedingly great. There is a famine within, however much they may try to conceal it. They are “in need.” He that “sows to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption.” No wonder that Paul said, “What profit had you in those things whereof you are now ashamed?” (Gal. 6:8. Rom. 6:21.)

We see, thirdly, in this parable, man awaking to a sense of his natural state, and resolving to repent. Our Lord tells us that the younger son “came to himself and said, how many servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger? I will arise and go to my father, and say unto him, Father, I have sinned.”

The thoughts of thousands are vividly painted in these words. Thousands have reasoned in this way, and are saying such things to themselves every day. And we must be thankful when we see such thoughts arise. Thinking is not change of heart, but it may be the beginning of it. Conviction is not conversion, but it is one step, at any rate, in a right direction. The ruin of many people’s souls is simply this, that they never think at all.

One caution, however, must always be given. Men must beware that they do not stop short in “thinking.” Good thoughts are all very well, but they are not saving Christianity. If the younger son had never got beyond thinking, he might have kept from home to the day of his death.

We see, fourthly, in this parable, man turning to God with true repentance and faith. Our Lord shows us the younger son leaving the far country where he was, and going back to his father’s house, carrying into practice the good intentions he had formed, and unreservedly confessing his sin. “He arose and went.”

These words are a life-like outline of true repentance and conversion. The man in whose heart a true work of the Holy Spirit has begun, will never be content with thinking and resolving. He will break off from sin. He will come out from its fellowship. He will cease to do evil. He will learn to do well. He will turn to God in humble prayer. He will confess his iniquities. He will not attempt to excuse his sins. He will say with David, “I acknowledge my transgression.” He will say with the tax-collector, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (Psalm 51:3. Luke 18:13.)

Let us beware of any repentance, falsely so called, which is not of this character. Action is the very life of “repentance unto salvation.” Feelings, and tears, and remorse, and wishes, and resolutions, are all useless, until they are accompanied by action and a change of life. In fact they are worse than useless. Insensibly they sear the conscience and harden the heart.

We see, fifthly, in this parable, the penitent man received readily, pardoned freely, and completely accepted with God. Our Lord shows us this, in this part of the younger son’s history, in the most touching manner. We read that “he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.'”

More deeply affecting words than these, perhaps, were never written. To comment on them seems almost needless. It is like gilding refined gold, and painting the lily. They show us in great broad letters the infinite love of the Lord Jesus Christ towards sinners. They teach how infinitely willing He is to receive all who come to Him, and how complete, and full, and immediate is the pardon which He is ready to bestow. “By Him all who believe are justified from all things.” “He is plenteous in mercy.” (Acts 13:39. Psalm 86:5.)

Let this boundless mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ be engraved deeply in our memories, and sink into our minds. Let us never forget that He is One “that receives sinners.” With Him and His mercy sinners ought to begin, when they first begin to desire salvation. On Him and His mercy saints must live, when they have been taught to repent and believe. “The life which I live in the flesh,” says Paul, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20.)

Luke 15:25-32

These verses form the conclusion of the parable of the prodigal son. They are far less well known than the verses which go before them. But they were spoken by the same lips which described the younger son’s return to his father’s house. Like everything which those lips spoke, they will be found deeply profitable.

We are taught, firstly, in this passage, how unkind and ill-natured are the feelings of self-righteous men towards sinners.

This is a lesson which our Lord conveys to us by describing the conduct of the “elder brother” of the prodigal son. He shows him to us “angry” and finding fault because of the rejoicings over his brother’s return. He shows him complaining that his father treated the returning prodigal too well, and that he himself had not been treated as well as his merits deserved. He shows him utterly unable to share in the joy which prevailed when his younger brother came home, and giving away to ill-natured and envious thoughts. It is a painful picture, but a very instructive one.

For one thing, this elder brother is an exact picture of the Jews of our Lord’s times. They could not bear the idea of their ‘Gentile’ younger brother being made partaker of their privileges. They would gladly have excluded him from God’s favor. They steadily refused to see that the Gentiles were to be fellow-heirs and partakers of Christ with themselves. In all this they were precisely acting the part of the “elder brother.”

For another thing, the elder brother is an exact type of the Scribes and Pharisees of our Lord’s times. They objected that our Lord received sinners and ate with them. They murmured because He opened the door of salvation to publicans and harlots. They would have been better pleased if our Lord had confined His ministry to them and their party, and had left the ignorant and sinful entirely alone. Our Lord saw this state of things clearly; and never did He paint it with such graphic power as in the picture of the “elder brother.”

Last, but not least, the elder brother is an exact type of a large class in the Church of Christ in the present day. There are thousands on every side who dislike a free, full, unfettered Gospel to be preached. They are always complaining that ministers throw the door too wide open, and that the doctrine of grace tends to promote licentiousness. Whenever we come across such people, let us remember the passage we are now considering. Their voice is the voice of the “elder brother.”

Let us beware of this spirit infecting our own heart. It arises partly from ignorance. Men begin by not seeing their own sinfulness and unworthiness, and then they fancy that they are much better than others, and that nobody is worthy to be put by their side. It arises partly from lack of charity. Men are lacking in kind feeling towards others, and then they are unable to take pleasure when others are saved. Above all, it arises from a thorough misunderstanding of the true nature of gospel forgiveness. The man who really feels that we all stand by grace and are all debtors, and that the best of us has nothing to boast of, and has nothing which he has not received–such a man will not be found talking like the “elder brother.”

We are taught, secondly, in this passage, that the conversion of any soul ought to be an occasion of joy to all who see it. Our Lord shows us this by putting the following words into the mouth of the prodigal’s father–“We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!”

The lesson of these words was primarily meant for the Scribes and Pharisees. If their hearts had been in a right state, they would never have murmured at our Lord for receiving sinners. They would have remembered that the worst of publicans and sinners were their own brethren, and that if they themselves were different, it was grace alone that had made the difference. They would have been glad to see such helpless wanderers returning to the fold. They would have been thankful to see them plucked as brands from the burning, and not cast away forever. Of all these feelings, unhappily, they knew nothing. Wrapped in their own self-righteousness they murmured and found fault, when in reality they ought to have thanked God and rejoiced.

The lesson is one which we shall all do well to lay to heart. Nothing ought to give us such true pleasure as the conversion of souls. It makes angels rejoice in heaven. It ought to make Christians rejoice on earth. What if those who are converted were lately the vilest of the vile? What if they have served sin and Satan for many long years, and wasted their substance in riotous living? It matters nothing. “Has grace come into their hearts? Are they truly penitent? Have they come back to their father’s house? Are they new creatures in Christ Jesus? Are the dead made alive and the lost found?”

These are the only questions we have any right to ask. If they can be answered satisfactorily we ought to rejoice and be glad. Let the worldly, if they please, mock and sneer at such conversions. Let the self-righteous, if they will, murmur and find fault, and deny the reality of all great and sudden changes. But let the Christian who reads the words of Christ in this chapter, remember them and act upon them. Let him thank God and be merry. Let him praise God that one more soul is saved. Let him say, “this my brother was dead and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.”

What are our own feelings on the subject? This after all is the question that concerns us most. The man who can take deep interest in politics, or field-sports, or money-making, or farming, but none in the conversion of souls, is no true Christian. He is himself “dead” and must be made “alive again.” He is himself “lost” and must be “found.”


Recovering from Spiritual Decay – John Owen

July 15, 2009 Comments off

A believer who has allowed his spiritual life to wither and decay may recover and be revived, provided he goes about it the right way. If every time we slip back on our climb to the heights of heaven, we cannot be recovered, then we would all surely perish. If salvation were only for those who never slipped back then none would be in heaven. If the Lord should mark iniquities, who could stand? (Ps. 130:3). When a tree grows old, or is decaying, it helps to loosen the soil around its base and then to manure it. This may revive it and cause it to flourish again. But if you uproot it and plant it somewhere else—which may appear to be a good thing to do—it will probably wither and die. This is exactly what some spiritual backsliders have done. Finding themselves growing more and more unspiritual, they leave their own church and go over to Rome or to some other denomination, thinking that the fault lies with the teaching of the church they are in, when in reality the fault lies in themselves. Such people have visibly withered and died spiritually. But if they had used the right means for healing and recovery, they might have flourished and brought forth much fruit. To recover and be revived we need to mortify our sins and lusts and make every effort to carry out the spiritual duties God requires. Mortification is a means to revive spiritual life. But it must be done scripturally, by the help of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:13). All other ways of putting to death our sins and lusts are condemned by God who asks, ‘Who has required these things at your hands?’ Like the Pharisees, Roman Catholicism brought the duty of spiritual mortification of sin into disrepute. They invented works, ways and duties which God never appointed, which he will never accept and which can never benefit men’s souls. Examples are: confession to a priest, various disciplines, pilgrimages, fastings, abstinence and set prayers to be repeated in stated canonical hours. But no amount of external exercise in these things brings any spiritual benefit whatever. But it is natural to turn to such helps in order to revive the soul. Those who are keenly aware of their sad spiritual state are burdened with a sense of guilt, for they know that it is sin that is responsible for their low spirituality. So the first question that arises is, how they may atone for that sin which has brought on them the divine displeasure and how they may once again be accepted by God. If they have no true evangelical light, two things immediately occur to them. First, some special course of duties, which God has not commanded. This is the way the church of Rome takes, and which guilt, in the darkness of corrupted nature, clamours for. Secondly, an extraordinary multiplication of duties, which for the most part are required of us. Micah gives us an example of both kinds (Mic. 6:6-7). In this way people hope to be restored to their previous flourishing spiritual state. Awareness of spiritual decays is of two kinds. First, there is an awareness brought about by the power of convictions only, which are multiplied among temporary believers. Secondly, there is an awareness brought about by a weakening of the power of saving grace in the soul. Those who are under convictions only, who are temporary believers, will turn for help to those man-made duties and works such as are devised by the church of Rome. When they fail, for the most part they stop wrestling with their sin and corruption and abandon themselves to the power of their lusts, for they have no evangelical light to guide them into the right way. Those who are aware of a weakening of their experience of grace themselves must redouble their efforts in the duties of mortification and spiritual obedience, but take care that what you do is what God has appointed, and that how you do it is guided and directed by Scripture. Examples of such duties are the reading and hearing of the Word, fervent prayer and diligently guarding against all temptations to sin. There should be a special effort to keep the mind spiritual and heavenly. This will demand holy earnestness, and a strong resistance to any other attitude of mind. But do not try these things in your own strength. The Holy Spirit rejects self-confidence (2 Cor. 3:5; 9:8). Self-confidence and self-sufficiency ignore Christ who alone is the Lord who heals us (Exod. 15:26). Another evil arises from self-confidence, when we do religious duties to build up merit and gain favour with God. No, what we do must be done by faith. Faith must seek Christ’s help and his grace both for mortification and obedience, or they will not be of any help in our healing and recovery.


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